President Donald Trump downplayed the Senate Republican leadership’s failure to line up the votes necessary to repeal and replace Obamacare, claiming that coming up two votes short was “pretty impressive.”
Speaking to reporters alongside Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, Trump said he was “very disappointed” that several Republican senators did not get behind the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could afford to lose only two of the 52 GOP senators and still pass the legislation. But on Tuesday, it appeared he’d lost four of his members.
Considering Democrats’ absolute opposition to that bill, Trump said he was still pleased with how close the legislation had come to passage.
“Essentially the vote would have been pretty close too, if you look at it: 48 to 4,” said Trump, referring to the Republican side only. “That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard.”
“You need more ― that’s pretty tough,” he added.
To avoid a repeat of this week’s failure, Trump said he would work hard to elect more Republicans to the Senate in 2018 to increase the GOP majority.
“We have to go out and we have to get more people elected that are Republican,” Trump said. “And we have to probably pull in those people, those few people who voted against it.”
Earlier in the day, Trump also suggested that he favors abolishing the filibuster, which allows senators to block much legislation that does not have a 60-vote majority. The health care bill that stalled in the Senate was specifically designed as a budget reconciliation measure, which is not subject to filibuster, so that Republicans could pass it with a simple majority ― or even 50 yeas plus Pence’s tie-breaking vote. But Trump noted on Twitter that other aspects of Obamacare repeal would effectively require 60 votes under current Senate rules.
Trump’s protestations that his agenda is being hampered by the Republicans’ relatively small majority in the Senate and by Democratic opposition are at odds with his criticism of then-President Barack Obama for blaming Republican obstruction for hindering his policies. In fact, in a 2012 tweet, Trump pointed to the Democrats’ control of Congress in 2009 and 2010 as evidence that Obama had ample opportunity to enact his preferred policies.
Trump now similarly enjoys Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and has the advantage of a conservative Supreme Court, which Obama lacked. In April, McConnell got rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, clearing the way for Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation.
The president sent mixed signals Tuesday about how he plans to move forward on Obamacare repeal. Although he implied that repealing the Affordable Care Act would require a larger Republican majority, he also said that the growing problems in Obamacare’s individual insurance marketplace would create pressure for a bipartisan fix.
“I’ve been saying for a long time: Let Obamacare fail and everybody’s going to have to come together and fix it and come up with a new plan and a plan that’s really good for the people with much lower premiums and much lower costs and much better protection,” Trump said.
McConnell had canceled plans to vote on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare on Monday night when two conservative Republicans, Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.), simultaneously announced their opposition to the legislation. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another hardliner, and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, had already announced their opposition, leaving McConnell no room for further attrition.
In lieu of the replacement bill, the majority leader announced his intention to seek a vote on a straight repeal bill to take effect in two years, during which time Republicans would presumably coalesce around a replacement.
But by Tuesday morning, Republican Sens. Collins, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) all declared that they would not allow such a vote to proceed, effectively derailing McConnell’s plan.
This story has been updated with more detail on Trump’s health care remarks and the path the Senate bill has taken.